John Poage Williamson, Class of 1857
Pioneer Missionary and Scholar
From the frontier of Minnesota, John Poage Williamson came to Marietta College and became a member of its graduating class of 1857. Entering Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, he earned his theological degree in 1860. He returned to The Plains becoming one of only a handful of missionaries working with the Dakota (Sioux) in Minnesota, South Dakota and Nebraska.
After the Dakota uprising in 1862, Williamson accompanied the Dakota women, children and old men into detention at Fort Snelling and was instrumental in advocating for their welfare. Later, at Crow Creek, he intervened with the military commander on behalf of the starving Dakota. It is estimated he may well have saved a thousand lives gaining permission for them to go on a buffalo hunt.
Known as the Dakota's St. John, Williamson founded missions across the region, educated Dakota men to become ordained Presbyterian ministers and promoted preservation of the Dakota culture in the face of westward expansion. He published the Dakota Odowan (Dakota Hymn Book) and the English-Dakota dictionary as well as the Iapi Oaye (Word Carrier), a monthly periodical in the Dakota Language. He received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from Yankton College in South Dakota in 1890.
A special agent for the United States in the Flandreau Agency from 1873-1878, Williamson also served in the South Dakota legislature. He tirelessly argued the Dakota's interests before the government and was a trusted interpreter to all parties during treaty negotiations.
He died in Greenwood, South Dakota, in 1917 at the age of 81.